Understanding the sphere of Street Photography….. It’s a baggy arena!

Created : 2021-Jul-14  |  Updated : 2021-Jul-14

Let’s explore what Street Photography is? It is a struggle to explain what this is. Perhaps suffice to say it is documenting everyday life and society? Many capture street photography to capture emotion and humanity. Then again street photography does not necessarily include people and could be of a mix of haphazard subjects. May be shapes, a silhouette, a fuzzy movement, a patch of light; a small hut to a high-rise building?

Why baggy? As cited, the term Street photography is fundamentally indistinct and awkward to fully describe. The expression, thus is vague and embrace an endless multiplicity of subjects, approaches and style. 

The prescribed descriptions too are numerous, but to explore a few, ‘A genre that records everyday life in a public place. The very publicness of the setting enables the photographer to take candid pictures of strangers, often without their knowledge. Street photographers do not necessarily have a social purpose in mind, but they prefer to isolate and capture moments which might otherwise go unnoticed’ – Encyclopedia Britannica.

‘Sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic’ – Wikipedia

As defined at the London Street Festival of Photography “…………. un-posed, un-staged photography which captures, explores or questions present-day society and the relationships between individuals and their surroundings.”

Then, what could be considered Street Photography?

Photographs in this genus is a spontaneous form of art. One which requires a lot of patience and perhaps a little luck to capture truly interesting and meaningful photographs where every photograph needs to have a message or a story to convey. Yet, as in any form of art there are time tested criteria. But then, such ‘rules’ are to be broken.

What should one cultivate?

A need to be brave, yet friendly. Look and be confident. Build up on your social skills to interact with your subject when necessary. Dress appropriately to blend in with the environs, to stand out may be as a tourist or to be accepted as a professional… all three work depending on the location and the circumstances.

Be ready to be a conversationalist if the need arises to justify what you are doing. Always be open and truthful. Smile!

What to look for?

Be mindful of ‘light’ – varied illumination on the subject or on the background to make interesting captures… may be in silhouettes….. a shadows play…. patterns or design.

Pick up interesting locations and many things happen when you are attentive to what transpires, by being alert and ready. Street sights that are unusual, weird of astonishing… even the surroundings such as at the sea shore or in water.

People…. activities, expressions, gestures and moods; happiness, joy, sorrow, boredom or anger; embraces, kisses, the interactions.

Capture the essence of femininity of masculinity…. Children. Besides the bodies as a whole, shoot details such as to focus on their hands, their feet, faces, the jewelry they wear or what they carry or hold on to. Pets and their owners.

Streets at sun rise and sunset or at night.

Transport and conveyances in its many forms and persons on, or therein. Shoot in diverse weather – sunny, rain mist and look for reflections in puddles of water or a capture through a misted window or a rain drop smeared window pane.

The list is exhaustive… let your eye rove the surroundings!

Be creative in your captures…

Your exposure should be ‘right’ for the image to set the mood of what you take. Be mindful of composition and the use of space or if you do break the rule, the images should justify ‘why’? Think of varying your view point and perspective as every image need not be from your height and at eye level.

Think of manifold techniques such as using a slow shutter speed, panning or a panorama or use an ND filter for long exposures to let your shutter drag or to remove people.

Why not shoot with lines, shapes, patterns or use a natural frame to be different?

Plan your visit and explore the locality. 

What then is the perfect ‘kit’?

The ideal camera and lens combination would be dependent on what you plan to capture. This too is too plentiful to remark on. As with many provinces of photography, an impressive image is from a usable camera and lens combination that you are intimate and comfortable with. Know your camera, know your exposure and associated practice and technique. The best camera then, is what you have. 

But let me leave you with these thoughts of a master of street photography and considered the pioneer of Street photography…

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oops…. The moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Panduka de Silva Hon. FISLP

(First authored by me for publication – ‘An Inner Vision of Street Photography')